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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: January 9, 2019

Deep Breath and Bracing Myself

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

Our house has now become a home, and the frantic moving activity has paused. There's plenty to do come spring " establishing a lawn, starting a garden and planting some apple trees and raspberry bushes. But for now, it's a time of comparative leisure until the ground thaws. After a year of ceaseless activity, free time is a luxury, and I have decided on a few new activities to take advantage of this time. I am ready to embark on something I never thought I'd have the courage to do " volunteering at a local animal shelter.

I love animals. Not just cats and dogs, but every creature under the sun. Dogs and cats, though, are domesticated animals, and not always served well by humans. During my married life my husband has cheerfully tolerated a steady stream of needy cats and dogs, and even a horse and a pony. This began before we moved to Oklahoma 19 years ago, but due to unfortunate cultural factors there, plus our "country" location close to a big city, the number of animals that ended up at our house increased drastically in Oklahoma. It seemed like every time we got a stray animal sterilized, vaccinated, and civilized enough to find a good new home, another waif appeared like magic. (I never rehomed pets without a thorough search for the owners.) I told incredulous people these animals were sent to me by God, and I do believe that. One of my favorite jokes is about the fact we never once recovered one of those "$1,000 reward" animals, although it seemed like we'd hit the jackpot sooner or later, with the dozens of animals we took in.

There was a purebred Beagle puppy, litters of feral kittens, a Siamese cat, a Red Heeler, a Coonhound, one of those little yippy designer dogs, a Pomeranian, a beautiful Husky, Collie mixes, Staffies and pit mixes " on and on it went. Calliope and Pogo went on to be service dogs, bringing me deep satisfaction. And we found the original owner of at least a dozen stray animals " always an occasion for happy tears.

But since my return to Wisconsin in June, I haven't seen a single loose dog; and only a couple of cats wisely darting off the roadway when I am driving. I am sure at some point a "barn cat" or two will appear here, but it hasn't happened yet. Apparently my maker has other plans for me now. So since helping animals remains a powerful urge for me, I attended training at the local no-kill animal shelter Sunday afternoon. I took a deep breath when I walked in the door, but I am going to put on my "big girl pants" and do this.

I have always thought of animal shelters as depressing places. Rows and rows of cages of hopeful prisoners, often bewildered by their circumstances after previously being pets. Some go crazy when a human appears, hoping for the best; while others lay passively, because they are not accustomed to fair treatment from humans, or because they've already given up. But I have not been looking at this the right way, for indeed the animals in a no-kill shelter like I will be volunteering at are already the extremely lucky ones. They weren't disposed of by a bullet, or dumped off in the country on their own. They are not at a municipal animal shelter, where sometimes the "hold" for strays is only 36 hours before the animals are euthanized. Sooner or later, nearly all the animals at the shelter I will be working at will find a new home and people to love.

The work at a shelter is not glamorous. There is endless cleaning, feeding, and watering. Dogs in cages have no option other than relieving themselves where they must. Most shelters are staffed nearly completely by volunteers who must attend to the animals daily, including weekends and holidays. Animals needing sterilization or other care must be transported to the vet.

But there is a fenced area for dogs to get some exercise, and an opportunity to do one of my favorite things " walk dogs. Giving a dog a few minutes outdoors will be a rewarding effort for me and an enormous stress reliever for the pet. And I know it will bring me great joy to do that.

There are opportunities to write "ads" for specific animals on their web site; post pictures; help with the absolutely necessary and never-ending fundraising, and giving the friendly cats a good head scratch.

Just don't ask me to work in the "surrender" room where people drop off pets they no longer can or want to keep. The thought of it breaks my heart.

We currently have eight total animals including two horses " seven of them Oklahoma rescues. Leaving any of them behind when we moved was strictly not an option. I have sternly lectured myself we are "full," and my new goal is to help shelter animals find a loving new home " with someone as batty about animals as I am.

I know there will be times I will be depressed at what I see. But I will keep telling myself I am helping to make things a little bit better in the best way I can. And you can help too " spay or neuter your animals, both males and females, and keep them home. And please consider adopting, not shopping. Four of the dogs at the shelter I trained at were worn-out "breeder dogs" from large scale popular small breed dog breeders. Once their breeding life is used up, these dogs are discarded like worn-out livestock. They have no idea how to be pets and require extensive socialization before they can be re-homed because they've been living in crates, bred over and over again with little positive interaction with humans. You do not need to support large-scale dog breeding to find a small, cute dog. Instead of letting your family pet reproduce to show kids the "miracle of birth," go to Breakfast on the Farm, or a zoo in the spring. Because with the "miracle of birth" comes the heartache of trying to find homes for yet more "free" puppies or kittens, and the cycle continues.

The problem is immense, but reducing the number of animals is the best way to fix this problem. I am helping treat the symptom: homeless animals. Too many dogs, puppies, kittens and cats is the disease, and it will take a mighty village effort to fix it.

My training is now complete and I met my first three initial goals:

1. I am qualified to volunteer at a no-kill animal shelter.

2. I did not come home with another animal.

3. I did not cry. Yet.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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